Do you experience feelings of sadness, increased food cravings, and loss of self-esteem for a specific period of time every year? The reason you may be experiencing these mood and behavioral changes might have to do with the change in climatic conditions around you. Several studies have found links between weather and changes in mood. If you’ve been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder or are just curious, this article can help you get a basic understanding of what it is, its symptoms, and treatment options.
1. What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Commonly referred to as “winter blues”, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression characterized by its occurrence for a specific period of time each year. During this period, individuals are usually able to identify a change in their mood and behavior themselves. The change can be moderate to extreme and in many cases it can affect daily functioning. In most cases, people experience SAD during winter months when there is a reduction in exposure to sunlight and when the days become shorter. In some rare cases, people experience SAD during summer as well.
2. How Does It Take Place?
The American Psychiatric Association states, “SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. As seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological internal clock or circadian rhythm that can cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule.” Mental Health America reports another cause for SAD. “Lower levels of serotonin have been shown to be linked to depression. Brain scans have shown that people who had seasonal depression in the winter had higher levels of a serotonin transporter protein that removed serotonin than in individuals who did not have seasonal depression.”
3. How Common Is This Condition?
According to statistics published on Mental Health America, “In a given year, about 5 percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal depression.” It also turns out that about four out of five cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder are women. “The main age of onset of seasonal depression is between 20 and 30 years of age, however symptoms can appear earlier. Typically, the further one is from the equator, the more at risk they are for seasonal depression.”
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder are largely similar to the symptoms of depression varying mostly in its period of occurrence. If a professional identifies the depression symptoms to have occurred during a specific seasonal change in the same pattern for two consecutive years, they may then diagnose it to be SAD. Symptoms may include loss of interest to perform activities, loss of self-esteem, feelings of guilt, anxiety, excessive sleeping, feeling lethargic and tired, increased food and carbohydrate cravings, loss of interest and desire in sex.
5. Treatment Options
If your have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are several treatment options you can explore with your mental health professional. These options may include photo-therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or treatment with antidepressants. According to Mental Health America, “Photo-therapy or bright light therapy has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin. Although, there have been no research findings to definitely link this therapy with an antidepressant effect, light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85 percent of diagnosed cases.”
6. Preventive Measures
Once an individual knows when he or she is likely to face the symptoms, several measures can be adopted to prevent the occurrence or to reduce the symptoms. Commencing photo-therapy before the onset of the depressive moods could help reduce symptoms. Individuals with this condition should get plenty of exercise and physical activity as this helps increase serotonin production. Yoga and meditation can help deal with any anxiety or stress that the individual may face.